Styria: The Green Heart of Austria

When speaking about Austria, the immediate association is usually Vienna, the city of classic music and palaces. Let us discover the other side of Austria and go visit the land of wild mountains, green forests, and fascinating culture.

If you consider vacations in Austria, take a look at Styria, the geographic center of the country, known for its amazing nature and called a “Green Heart of Austria”.  Probably, this is the most beautiful region in the country where wide valleys and deep lakes are hidden among enormous mountains and form extremely beautiful landscapes. One of the most impressive mountain chains in the world, the Alps is presented here in their breathtaking beauty.  Despite, Styria still stays not so known among tourists from other continents. So if you want to see something really different from usual European tourist places, decide for the South of Austria.

You will never get bored in Styria. Here one can find lots of attractions for all: starting from experiencing a wild nature and typical Austrian mountain village life, going further to immersing deep in the medieval history in the castles, museums, and fortresses, up to having fun at the local festivals of modern music and art.

The land of kings and fairy tales

The second largest city in Austria, nowadays Graz develops very fast. An intensive rhythm of business life and relaxing atmosphere of a historical place with a remarkable past naturally combine in this city. Also, Graz is a home for one of the biggest Austrian Universities; so the city is full of young energy, interesting design decisions, and up-to-date cultural events.

The city is located on both sides of the river Mur, lies at the Alpine foothill face to a fertile valley.  Its history started in the 6th century when local tribes built here a castle. Actually, that is why Graz got its name out of Slavic word “gradec”, which means castle. Ancient south Slavic tribes today turned to Slovenians, the good neighbors of Styria; the border with their state Slovenia is only 40 km drive from Graz. Just several centuries after the foundation of the city, in 1379, the Habsburgs, kings of this land, chose the city for their residence for next 200 years.  Of course, being a home for a ruler of the kingdom gave Graz a special atmosphere and you start feeling it right from the first step you make on the Main Square or Hauptplatz.  Meet the Habsburg, the statue of whom rises in the middle of the triangular Main Square. The Hauptplatz is surrounded by buildings, erected in 19-th, 18-th, 17-th, the earliest in 16th centuries. All these periods developed different styles of arts, and the facades of the buildings are very diverse. 

Keep moving forward using the main street, Herrengasse (The Lord’s Road), and don’t miss the pearls of the city’s history. The impressive Burg (or fortress in German) was built in the 15th century such as we see it today. Its contemporary the Domkirche (or cathedral) is a brilliant example of a gothic church, apart from the painted walls which are not usual for such a style. The paintings tell us significant stories out of the history of Graz. 

If you are in Graz, you must visit the Schlossberg – a castle on the hill from where, of course, one can get an amazing view. To make incredible pictures go climb the Clock Tower, or the Uhrturm, which is there since the 13th century and is used a symbol of Graz.  Then come down back to the city and enjoy numerous monuments of different periods: the baroque church Mariahilfkirche, dancing figures on Glockenspiel , solid Karl-Franzens University building, the contemporary art gallery Kunsthaus, and many other churches and monuments.

 Just 11 miles north of Graz you will find one of the largest in Europe and the most fascinating in Austria open-air museum - Freilichtmuseum at Stübing. 97 traditional courtyard and economy buildings from six centuries are presented here: houses, watermills, steads, village shop, fire station, school, smithies. All constructions are actual historical monuments and were brought here out of all regions of Austria, so once you visit the Museum you can seriously consider you have been to every corner of the country. The rural life of different medieval periods collected here in various ranges of traditional architecture and culture. Freilichtmuseum is a relaxing journey through time: crop fields, grazing animals and peasants create a full impression of the immersion in that era when people believed in fairy tales.

The magic of the mountains

If you are in Styria for a vacation, take your time and visit the natural pearl of this region – the Gesäuse National Park Alpine Region. An exemplary alpine nature of the Enns Valley is conserved here, where tourists have a chance to enjoy the beauty of wild water.  The turbulent and dynamic Enns river, the longest river in Austria, flows in the middle of a green plateau which is lined with the mountain walls; this is a magnificent view that gives you an impression of greatness and mightiness of the Old World’s nature.

Actually, the Gesäuse National Park is dedicated to water: about 900 sources of fresh water are scattered around its territory. The water of local springs, waterfalls, ponds, sinkholes is really clean from polluting substances and the National Park improves their quality from year to year. Thus, in 2006 they stopped using the only lake of the park, the Sulzkarsee lake as a fishpond and a water source for cattle. Today the lake, which is situated right in the core of the park, is slowly going back to the natural ecological balance it has before.

The main role of the park is to restore the population of endangered fauna representatives, and it was performed successfully.  While hiking hills and mountains of the Enns Valley, you can spot many interesting creatures: a red deer, an otter, a sandpiper, a golden eagle, a huchen, a brook lamprey, and many other species that you can meet only in Austria. Minding that watering in the valley is rather good, the flora of the National Park is very rich too: you can find a variety of flowers, grass, and trees specific for each height zone of the mountains.

The Gesäuse is surrounded by four big mountain massifs (the Buchstein, the Admont-Reichenstein, the Hochtour, and the Zinödl-Lugauer), that is why it is one of the best climbing destinations in Europe already for 200 years.  Wild water of Enns and its tributaries offers adventurous experience of rafting and kayaking. 

Of course, if there are the mountains, here you will find skiing; in winter Styria offers a great choice of over 30 small ski resorts. If you love this sport, in Styria you have a chance to enjoy different routes of travelling from one ski town to the other. Usually, they offer short tracks from 1 to 70 km, so this place is a paradise for beginners. Why not start you sports career in the Alps? But if alpine skiing is not your passion, try snow-shoe hiking or dog sled race, or cross-country ski running: Styria is a place where sport is a natural fun, not a routine.

A special wine experience

 Valleys of Styria are blessed with rich soil and bright sun. The best Austrian wine grows here, and some of them are cultivated already for 400-500 years. A picturesque South Styrian Wine Road is often compared to Italian Tuscany. Small farmhouses on the green hills, vineyards, white churches combine to an idyllic peaceful picture. Take a one hour ride from Graz and enjoy exquisite wine tastings in local taverns.

Styrian Wine Road is 44 miles long. You will need a few days to explore it. It is reasonable to make a walk on a hiking trail, like a Glanzer Weintour Walk that starts from the Glanz village and lasts 6,5 miles. Make stops at local wineries where you can enjoy best local sorts of light aromatic wine. There are many sorts of regional wines and you will definitely wish to try all. Order a Brettljause, an assortment of homemade meats, cheeses, and pickles that perfectly fit a taste of wine.

Tired but happy, you will need some serious food for dinner. Try Styrian specialties: crispy fried chicken, mountain lamb or Styrian beef, along with roasted chestnut or pumpkin soup, and of course potato salad flavored with pumpkin seed oil.

When planning your visit to Styria, find out first in there a food or a wine festival around. This is the best chance to taste as many wines and dishes as you can eat and drink at a time!

Take all and save money

Styria and its capital, the city of Graz, are full of amazing destinations. A wise way to make you summer vacation in South Austria really diverse and see the most remarkable places is to get a Steiermark Card. For a card holder, it is a ticket to 126 attractions in the Green Heart of Austria. The ticket is valid from April to October and allows you to enter to the most visited places for free, and many of them not just once but many times. Museums, workshops, spas, wineries, breweries, hiking trails, monuments of nature, zoo, cable cars, galleries, sport and leisure centers, pools and lakes of Styria will be in your pocket with one card.